Underground music scenes are a secret handshake among those who know. When Americana earned its slate of Grammy categories, the roots/songwriter oeuvre emerged into the mainstream – with Brandi Carlile landing in all-genre “Big Four” categories.
For a moment, when Cross Canadian Ragweed made the 2002 leap from indie sensation to Universal South, helmed by MCA A&R legend Tony Brown and Arista Nashville founder Tim DuBois; a Kentucky mining inspector named Chris Knight landed on Decca; and Jack Ingram signed to Rising Tide and was produced by Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy, there was a rumble that suggested Red Dirt’s time had arrived. The Oklahoma/Texas-grounded subgenre took cowboy force and yearning, forged rock and country together, applied Texas songwriter ethos – and threatened to launch the same kind of Nashville- rejecting wave Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson did in the ’70s.
Bob Childers, Jimmy LaFave, the Tractors’ Steve Ripley, even J.J. Cale were the forebears for what became Red Dirt. It was more textured than the Guy Clarks, Jimmie Dale Gilmores, Townes Van Zants, but just as real. Mike McClure and the Great Divide, Cody Canada and Cross Canadian Ragweed, Reckless Kelly, Stoney LaRue, Jason Boland and Ingram made places like Stillwater, Oklahoma, and New Braunfels, Texas, more than a dot on the map, followed by the Randy Rogers Band, Eli Young Band, Wade Bowen and more.
Universal Nashville EVP A+R Brian Wright recalls, “2009 at Texas In The Rockies with Lee Ann Womack, I saw all these kids walking around with ‘Fuck Nashville’ T-shirts. There were 60, 70 artists playing all over … It was Kevin Fowler, Stoney LaRue, Ingram was there. It was potent.”
Each act was different, yet they had the same rootsy intensity as they mixed their specific recipe of folk, rock, honky tonk, bluegrass, country, Mexican styles and Western swing. If it reached into Arkansas, Arizona, the Midwest, that was fine. Red Dirt was for true believers, not people looking to sell out on the radio or by way of a major label.If you’ve never heard of it – or just heard songs on “Yellowstone” – it’s not surprising. A word of mouth proposition, Red Dirt is a genre that created a fervent network of fans who pass the news. But Red Dirt is alive and vital.
Parker McCollum is the Academy of Country Music’s New Male Artist of the Year. Corey Kent, Flatland Cavalry, Mickey + the Motorcars, Koe Wetzel, Muscadine Bloodline and Turnpike Troubadours bode well for the future. If Tyler Childers, Jamey Johnson and Sturgill Simpson represent country’s hard ground, Red Dirt is the Western cousin